Constructing gay male identity in a multicultural society: a qualitative grounded theory study in Malaysia

Jun Wei Liow, Jia Wearn Chong, Rachel Sing Kiat Ting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Malaysia is a multiethnic and multireligious country in Asia that provides a rich landscape for the study of intersectional influences on sexual identity development. This study adopted a constructivist grounded theory research design to explore sexual identity development in 36 Malaysian gay males of varying ethnicities and religious affiliations. We proposed a five-stage Systemic Interaction Model (SIM) that theorizes sexual identity development as a continuous process of gay men discovering and then cycling between refining and redefining their self-concept. The five SIM stages are as follows: (1) noticing same-sex attraction and gender nonconformity; (2) exploring, experimenting, and eradicating differences from among same-sex peers; (3) confirming sexual orientation as gay; (4) accepting sexual identity as gay and (5) negotiating social expectations and pursuing a perceived ideal gay life. The five-stage model details the intricate intersectional, intrapersonal and interpersonal processes of Malaysian gay men as they move from passive roles into active cultural agents, developing their sexual identity in the relational, closeknit and tight Malaysian society in the process. Implications for health professionals and policymakers were also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1456-1480
Number of pages25
JournalSexuality and Culture
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Asian gay men
  • Gay identity development
  • Grounded theory
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexual orientation

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